rugby, like, people, work

'Skin colour does not matter': Bongi Mbonambi on the new Springboks   -7%

  • South Africa hooker hails coach Rassie Erasmus
  • ‘Now you get picked by the work that you do’

Bongi Mbonambi believes South Africa’s rapid rise under Rassie Erasmus from laughing stock to World Cup contenders is down to the coach’s willingness to pick players on form and not be swayed by loyalty or colour.

Related: Warren Gatland urges Wales to seize their chance of Rugby World Cup glory

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Yaa Gyasi on the long shadow of slavery in America   -33%

Ghanaian-American writer Yaa Gyasi talks to Haaretz about what inspired her acclaimed debut novel, 'Homecoming,' in which two different worlds - 18th century Ghana and present day America – are linked by devastating exploitation

Errol Spence Jr: Boxer charged with drink driving after being released from hospital   5%

The American world welterweight champion crashed his Ferrari in the early hours of October 10

Review: A New Opera Pays Poetic Tribute to the Creative Process  

Hannah Lash’s “Desire,” an allegorical chamber work for three singers and the JACK Quartet, had its world premiere in New York.

Superman Speaks His Truth   -1%

A change is right around the corner. What will it mean for the hero, his world and his fans? Brian Michael Bendis explains.

Police search for two people who stole $100,000 in jewelry from a Coral Way penthouse   23%

Miami police are searching for two people who they say stole a very valuable safe from a Coral Way penthouse. Detectives say the woman left her home, located on the … Click to Continue »

#Fitness: 'Endurance is the key,' says PV Sindhu   -2%

The ace badminton player, whose recent World Championships gold took the country by storm, has a customised workout to help her with long rallies and agility on the court

Keep Your Frenemies Closer   -10%

At last night’s Democratic presidential debate, the candidate who spoke the least was the one newcomer: the billionaire businessman Tom Steyer, who had managed to pass the polling and fundraising thresholds to qualify for his debate-stage debut. His total speaking time in the three-hour debate, according to The Washington Post, was a shade over seven minutes, less than a third of the time spent by the most talkative candidate, Elizabeth Warren. FiveThirtyEight calculated that Steyer spoke a total of only 1,318 words (compared with 3,695 for Warren).

But one of Steyer’s words was particularly notable. Addressing the climate crisis, he stressed the need for international cooperation, saying, “I’ve been working on it for 10 years, taking on the corporations. But we have to work with our allies and our frenemies around the world.”

As soon as he uttered the word frenemies, Twitter lit up. Numerous observers—among them Evan McMurry of ABC News, Ryan Teague Beckwith of Bloomberg News, Nick Baumann of HuffPost, Lisa Guerrero of Inside Edition, and Jon Levine of the New York Post—wondered aloud if this was the first time that frenemies had ever been used in a presidential debate. I can answer: Most definitely.

And while some argued over whether “frenemies” was a good way to describe the relationship between the United States and other countries that are difficult to work with, others saw the word as particularly apt on a night when the Democratic candidates appeared to be at turns both cordial and combative toward one another. After a tense exchange between Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg on gun control, the comedy editor Ryan Case tweeted, “Are Beto and Mayor Pete frenemies?”

[Read: Why Trump wouldn’t say “jockstrap”]

While Steyer may take credit for introducing frenemies to the debate stage, the term has proved useful for decades in labeling relationships—both personal and political—that straddle the divide between “friend” and “enemy.” As a blend of two opposing words forming a catchy oxymoron, frenemy (sometimes spelled “frienemy”) has been reinvented by wordsmiths countless times over the years.

One early isolated example found in a trawl of newspaper databases is from a December 1891 issue of The Champion of Norton, Kansas, which tells cryptically of a local politician, “Hon. George A. Spaulding, the Machiavelian diplomatist of Philipsburg,” who was pursuing a legal matter “not in the hands of his frienemies himself.” Perhaps well-informed Kansans of the time would have been able to infer exactly whom Spaulding’s “frienemies” were, but the item is unfortunately opaque to modern readers.

The word popped up again in 1932, used by the popular writer Walter Winchell in his slangy syndicated gossip column, “On Broadway,” which appeared in The Morning Post of Camden, New Jersey. “Ted Stillman has at last discovered the best way to refer to a Broadway ‘pal.’ Call him a frienemy.” No doubt the Broadway world of the time was full of faux friendships masking professional rivalries and hostilities, and Winchell’s witty correspondent provided just the right label.

An Iowa-based columnist, Harlan Miller, reintroduced the word in the December 1938 issue of Better Homes and Gardens, attributing it to his young son. “For use in his endless war games with spears and bows and arrows, our 5-year-old has coined one of the most useful new words of the year 1938—‘frenemy,’ a person who is your friend part of the time and your enemy the rest of the time.”

Miller found the word so useful that a few months later he put it in his syndicated Green Bay Press-Gazette column—again crediting his son, but now relating it to fractious European allies on the verge of war. “If you listen to the chatter in diplomatic circles, you’re apt to conclude that the alliances and axis in Europe aren’t worth the paper clips that hold ’em together,” Miller wrote. “In fact, my 5-year-old has coined the word, ‘frenemy’ which describes these allies perfectly. A frenemy is someone who’s your friend today, but may be your enemy tomorrow.”

The idea of applying frenemy to contentious geopolitical relations—similar to Steyer’s debate usage—reemerged in April 1953. It was Winchell again, straying from his usual celebrity gossip to make an observation about the leadership of the Soviet Union, then undergoing a power struggle after the death of Joseph Stalin. Winchell asked in his column, “Howz about calling the Russians our frienemies?”

American writers weren’t the only ones using the word frenemy. Jessica Mitford, an English journalist and activist who escaped the aristocratic life of her famous sisters to settle in the U.S., wrote in 1977 that frenemy was “an incredibly useful word that should be in every dictionary, coined by one of my sisters when she was a small child to describe a rather dull little girl who lived near us.” In an essay titled “The Best of Frenemies” that appeared in both the Daily Mail and The New York Times, Mitford mused, “I wonder whether most of us do not, in fact, spend more time with frenemies than with actual friends or outright enemies?”

It would take another couple of decades, however, before frenemy became more firmly established in the cultural consciousness. In the 1998 hit song “You Get What You Give,” by the Los Angeles–based band New Radicals, the front man Gregg Alexander sang of “frenemies, who when you’re down ain’t your friend.” The rap group Arsonists titled a track “Frienemies” the following year. But it made a bigger splash in 2000, when the HBO show Sex and the City aired an episode called “Frenemies.”

Throughout the aughts, frenemies grew into the go-to term for celebrity pals who clashed in the public eye (think Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag from The Hills). From pop culture, the term made its way back to politics. After Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, it soon came out that he was considering appointing his erstwhile rival from the primaries, Hillary Clinton, to be his secretary of state. In The New York Times, Maureen Dowd wrote about the news in a column titled “Team of Frenemies,” playing off Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book about Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet, Team of Rivals.

Talk of frenemies even penetrated the White House briefing room. Josh Earnest, the last of Obama’s press secretaries, was confronted with the word in two different press briefings in 2015. In April of that year, one reporter asked, “Are the Russians friends? Are they foes? Are they frenemies?” And a few months later, Earnest fielded the question, “How would you describe the U.S.-Pakistani relationship now? Are we frenemies?” Earnest chuckled and asked, “Is that a technical term?”

Meanwhile, old political rivalries have retrospectively received the “frenemy” treatment. When the working relationship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill was hailed as a model of bipartisan cooperation by both Obama and Mitt Romney in a 2012 debate, O’Neill’s son Thomas P. O’Neill III looked back on that history in an opinion piece for The New York Times titled “Frenemies: A Love Story.” And going back even further, the feuds that Alexander Hamilton had with Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison (as dramatized in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton) have even elicited the “frenemy” tag. Starting this weekend, the Virginia Museum of History & Culture is launching an exhibit called “Founding Frenemies: Hamilton and the Virginians.”

By now, frenemy is sufficiently entrenched in the lexicon to be included in major dictionaries from Merriam-Webster, Oxford, and American Heritage. And in politics, it’s commonplace enough that The Washington Post can easily call Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden “longtime frenemies” in a headline. So perhaps the more appropriate question about Steyer’s invocation of the term would be: How did it take so long for frenemies to show up in a debate?

South Africa: Reeza Helps Lions Regain Their Roar in Kimberley   12%

[News24Wire] Cape Town -A 15th career century by Reeza Hendricks helped the Lions score 300-plus for the first time in 2019/20 as they bossed the opening day of their 4-Day Domestic Series encounter against the Knights in Kimberley on Monday.

Jelena Ostapenko wins Luxembourg Open title   18%

Ostapenko, 22, broke second seed Goerges four times to clinch a third career title -- her first since winning in Seoul in September 2017.

Eliud Kipchoge nominated for IAAF male athlete of the year after marathon feat   35%

Kipchoge, who finished a special marathon in Vienna in one hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds that will not be recognised for world record purposes, also was nominated for his London Marathon course record

California Tells Schools to Start Later, Giving Teenagers More Sleep   13%

A new law pushed back start times at most public middle and high schools, citing research that says attendance and performance will improve if teenagers get more sleep.

Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus: Four celebs who wore food   10%

From raw meat to apples, stars around the globe have time and again surprised their fans by sporting seemingly palatable attires.

The Books Briefing: Trapped in a World That Uber Built   6%

At CityLab, The Atlantic’s sibling site, we write about people in cities and other urban spaces who are trying to build a better present, as well as better futures. In today’s Books Briefing, we’re highlighting books that reveal what happens when these efforts go wrong. To use a trite but always resonant aphorism about literature: Truth can be stranger than fiction. The seeds that could grow into the dystopias of tomorrow are being planted right now.

San Francisco is fertile land for such parables. Super Pumped, by Mike Isaac, traces how one little company called Uber, led by a flawed founder, pledged to disrupt urban transportation—and ended up trampling on city policy, abetting corporate malfeasance, and draining public-transit ridership. In Uberland, the tech ethnographer Alex Rosenblat further unravels how Uber’s promise to reshape the nature of work has created a gig economy made of disenfranchised and surveilled people.

In Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America, Randy Shaw zooms out to the hills and valleys of the city where Uber and other tech companies were born, and argues that, in hoarding land and enforcing strict zoning codes, suburban Boomers have teed up a future in which few others can afford to live. Radical Suburbs, by CityLab’s Amanda Kolson Hurley, works to dispel the narrative that’s been built around suburbs—that they’re cookie-cutter, homogenous, and sprawling. The legacy of these particular experimental communities failed to live on, but some of their core ideals could still be revived.

For good measure, we’re throwing in some good old urban dystopia too, whose narratives hew uncomfortably close to reality. The Municipalists imagines a fictionalized city where gentrification is fought through bombings, cashless restaurants are opened to shut out the poor, and the antihero is an urban planner. And Infinite Detail, set in New York City and Bristol, is a critique of too-smart cities that expertly straddles “the hardscrabble post-internet world and the uncanny near-future version of our own society that precedes it.”

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.

Want more urban explorations? Sign up for CityLab’s weekly Navigator newsletter here.

What We’re Reading

We’ve been trapped in “Uberland”
“It’s becoming clear that these seemingly neutral services that have operated in a Wild West of regulation have destabilizing effects on society, even while delivering wonderful popular benefits.”

📚 Uberland, by Alex Rosenblat

A ride-sharing company’s ruthless rise
“After 10 years of existence, [Uber] does seem indispensable. But what is this going to look like in another 10 years?”

📚 Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, by Mike Isaac

The secret history of the suburbs
“As opposed to the groups who went far into America’s interior to settle isolated communes, these were, in a paradoxical-sounding phrase, practical utopians. … Their history shows that bold social and architectural experimentation is not alien to suburbia. In fact, it’s a suburban tradition.”

📚 Radical Suburbs, by Amanda Kolson Hurley

The dystopian novel that explains what’s wrong with real smart cities
“What smart cities do is take digital divides—divisions between who has access to technology and who doesn’t—and turn them into physical divides.”

📚 Infinite Detail, by Tim Maughan

The buddy-cop comedy that imagines a war against gentrification
“When I started writing this book, an alcoholic artificial intelligence was the most outlandish part of the book. Now an ambitious, well-funded federal agency is what’s ridiculous.”

📚 The Municipalists, by Seth Fried

The Reference Desk

(New York Public Library)

Write to the Books Briefing team at or reply directly to this email with any of your reading-related dilemmas. We might feature one of your questions in a future edition of the Books Briefing and offer a few books or related Atlantic pieces that might help you out.

About us: This edition of the Books Briefing is written by CityLab’s Sarah Holder. The book she’s reading while on her reporting trip is Patti Smith’s Just Kids.

You can sign up for more newsletters from CityLab here.

Comments, questions, typos? Reply to this email to reach the Books Briefing team.

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The Arabic Booker Prize could make history this year   8%

This could be the first time a woman is named the sole winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction

Writer Jack Thorne on leaving things out of His Dark Materials for TV   -23%

The writer of 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' and 'Kiri' talks to Charlotte Cripps about adapting Philip Pullman, workaholism, sexism in the TV industry, the disgusting prejudice against disabled people, and his latest Channel 4 drama, 'The Accident'

Chinese soft power is a carrot being undermined by a stick   10%

China’s policymakers are well aware of the importance of soft power in shaping a nation’s standing in the world. Indeed, its leaders have often spoke admiringly of the concept first put forward by the US political scientist Joseph Nye in his 1990 book, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power.The former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University had theorised that in an increasingly complex and multipolar world the constraints of “hard power” – the use of…

'Do you wind it up?': todays teens tackle rotary phones, FM radio and map reading  

Their smartphones do everything, but can teenagers master old tech and life skills – from reading a map to setting an alarm clock?

Three 15-year-old school children are on the phone, in class. No, it’s OK, they’re supposed to be; they’ve been told to, by me, with permission from their teacher. And they’re not actually on the phone, because they don’t know how to use it. It’s an old-fashioned rotary telephone, finger-in-the-dial variety. They’re tapping it, prodding at the holes. Hahahaha – they haven’t got a clue.

Loxford is an academy in Ilford, east London. I’ve come here with a suitcase stuffed full of the past, tech from my own childhood, mostly borrowed from nostalgic hoarder colleagues. Everything in the case is obsolete: it’s all been shrunk to fit into the smartphones today’s 15-year-olds almost all have. It’s a kind of social experiment, about different generations, lost skills, changing technology – what Loxford media studies teacher Mr Rushworth calls “convergence”. OK, and it’s also about having a laugh; and getting my generation’s own back for those times we’ve had to go crawling to a teenager for technical assistance, such as asking how to make the video on WhatsApp work.

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The Eye-Popping Cost of Medicare for All   10%

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s refusal to answer repeated questions at last night’s debate about how she would fund Medicare for All underscores the challenge she faces finding a politically acceptable means to meet the idea’s huge price tag—a challenge that only intensified today with the release of an eye-popping new study.

The Urban Institute, a center-left think tank highly respected among Democrats, is projecting that a plan similar to what Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders are pushing would require $34 trillion in additional federal spending over its first decade in operation. That’s more than the federal government’s total cost over the coming decade for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid combined, according to the most recent Congressional Budget Office projections.

In recent history, only during the height of World War II has the federal government tried to increase taxes, as a share of the economy, as fast as would be required to offset the cost of a single-payer plan, federal figures show. There are “no analogous peacetime tax increases,” says Leonard Burman, a public-administration professor at Syracuse University and a former top tax official in both the Bill Clinton administration and at the CBO. Raising that much more tax revenue “is plausible in the sense that it is theoretically possible,” Burman told me. “But the revolution that would come along with it would get in the way.”

At the debate, as throughout the campaign, Warren refused to provide any specifics about how she would fund a single-payer plan. Instead, whether questioned by moderators or challenged by other candidates, she recycled variants on the same talking points she has used in venues from campaign town halls to a recent appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Rather than explaining what revenue she would raise to fund the plan, Warren insisted that under single payer, middle-income families would save more money with the elimination of health-care premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, regardless of any taxes imposed. “Costs will go up for the wealthy and for big corporations, and for hard-working middle-class families, costs will go down,” she said at the debate.

[Read: The risk of Elizabeth Warren’s dodging]

That calculation itself is disputed. And it begs the question: Even if families would eventually save under a single-payer system, a President Warren would still need to identify a politically plausible funding plan to pass such a program through Congress. By all indications, that looms as an extremely daunting project.

The new Urban Institute study helps define the magnitude of the task Warren (or Sanders) would face. The think tank modeled the costs of eight possible plans to expand health-care coverage that generally track ideas from the Democratic presidential candidates. By far, the most expensive was its version of the single-payer plan that Sanders introduced in the Senate and that Warren later endorsed: a blueprint that would eliminate private health insurance, require no co-pays or premiums from individuals, and provide everyone in the United States (including undocumented immigrants) an expansive benefits package including dental, vision, and home health care.

The 10-year cost of $34 trillion that the study forecasts nearly matches the CBO’s estimate of how much money the federal government will spend over that period not only on all entitlement programs, but also on all federal income support, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Former Vice President Joe Biden said incorrectly at the debate that the single-payer plan would cost more annually than the total existing federal budget—it would cost less. (The CBO says Washington will spend about $4.6 trillion in 2020.) But over the next decade, the plan on its own would represent a nearly 60 percent increase in total expected federal spending, from national defense to interest on the national debt, according to CBO projections.

The Urban Institute estimates that a single-payer plan would require $32 trillion in new tax revenue over the coming decade. That’s slightly less revenue than its projected cost, because it would generate some offsetting savings by eliminating certain tax benefits the government now provides, such as the exclusion for employer-provided health care.

How big a lift is it to raise $32 trillion? It’s almost 50 percent more than the total revenue the CBO projects Washington will collect from the personal income tax over the next decade (about $23.3 trillion). It’s more than double the amount the CBO projects Washington will collect over the next decade from the payroll tax that funds Social Security and part of Medicare (about $15.4 trillion). A $32 trillion tax increase would represent just over two-thirds of the revenue the CBO projects the federal government will collect from all sources over the next decade (just over $46 trillion.)

Taxes that can fill that big of a hole are not easy to identify. Even by Warren’s own estimates, which some liberal economists consider too optimistic, her proposed wealth tax on personal fortunes exceeding $50 million would raise just $2.75 trillion over the next decade. That’s less than what would be required to fund a single-payer plan for one year. In any case, Warren has already targeted that revenue for other proposals she’s issued, such as providing universal preschool and child care, and canceling most college debt while funding tuition-free public higher education. Repealing the tax cuts for businesses and individuals that President Donald Trump and the GOP Congress passed in late 2017 would similarly raise about $2 trillion in federal revenue over the next decade.

Other tax options would likewise make a relatively minor dent. For instance, some Democrats have proposed for years to eliminate the current cap on the payroll tax—which stops taxing income above about $133,000—and instead impose the tax on all income above a higher threshold, such as $250,000. The CBO recently estimated that such a plan would raise about $1.2 trillion over the next decade, again a small share of single payer’s cost. Besides, Warren has already proposed such a tax hike and earmarked the money to increase Social Security benefits.

Burman told me that the broad-based income-tax increases that Sanders has discussed using to fund single payer—including raising the top income-tax rate past 50 percent and ending reduced taxation for capital gains—would likely cover about half of the proposal’s cost. If Warren or Sanders tried to cover the other half with a value-added tax—a sort of national sales tax that many European nations use to fund their social safety net—the rate would likely need to be set at about 25 percent, he estimated. “All of the things Sanders proposed plus a high VAT by European standards might get you there,” Burman said.

Alternatively, some advocates have discussed raising the payroll tax to fund a single-payer plan. Currently, the payroll tax is set at 15.3 percent of earnings, with the cost split between employees and employers. Former CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, now the president of the center-right think tank the American Action Forum, told me that level would need to substantially rise to fund a single-payer plan. He said, in a “ballpark” estimate, that Sanders’s plan “would require [a] payroll-tax hike of 20 to 25 percentage points.”

Whatever alternative Warren or Sanders select, a single-payer plan would require increasing federal revenue at a rate not seen in 70-odd years, both Burman and Holtz-Eakin told me. Measured as a share of the economy, total federal receipts tripled during World War II, rising from almost 7 percent to nearly 21 percent of the gross domestic product from 1940 to 1945, according to federal figures. Since then, federal revenue, compared with the broader economy, has generally oscillated within a fairly narrow range. The most it’s increased in a single decade is about 10 percent, during the 1950s, 1960s, 1990s, and in the past decade. (Revenue has increased despite the massive Trump tax cuts because the Great Recession vastly reduced federal revenues and created an unusually low starting point.)

Though federal revenue today still starts at a low level by historic standards (16.6 percent), providing more potential flexibility to raise taxes, the cost of a single-payer plan would swamp any such advantage. By 2029, with the added cost of single payer factored in, federal revenue would increase to close to 30 percent of the total economy. That would mean federal revenue would increase as a share of the economy by about three-fourths over a decade, far more rapidly than in any other 10-year period since World War II. It would also mean that federal revenue would considerably exceed the share of the economy it consumed even during World War II, when it reached 20.5 percent in 1944, a level unmatched since.

[Read: The question Elizabeth Warren doesn’t want to answer]

The central response from Warren and Sanders to concerns about their health plans’ cost has been to tout the overall savings for Americans, and the Urban Institute analysis suggests that for lower- and middle-income families, that’s possible. The study projects that households will save nearly $887 billion in annual costs and employers another $955 billion, some of which could revert to workers in the form of higher wages.

Though that’s much less than the new taxes required for the plan, the organization says that lower- and middle-income families might still come out ahead. “Higher-income people will likely face the greatest increases in taxes, meaning their new tax burdens would likely exceed their savings; the reverse is likely true for lower-income populations,” the report concludes. (Among other dissenters, that conclusion is disputed by Kenneth Thorpe, a leading health economist at Emory University and a former assistant secretary in Clinton’s Health and Human Services department. In a study Biden cited at last night’s debate, Thorpe calculated that, under single payer, 71 percent of households with private insurance today—almost 70 million households in all—“would pay more in new taxes than they would save through the elimination of premiums and cost sharing.”)

The debate over savings is impossible to resolve so long as Warren refuses to offer any indication of what revenue she would raise to fund her plan. On CNN this morning, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg lashed her for dodging the question. “I have a lot of respect for Senator Warren, but last night she was more specific and forthcoming about the number of selfies she’s taken than about how this plan is going to be funded,” he said.

What is clear now is that the Sanders version of single payer—which Warren at the debate called the “gold standard” of health-care proposals—would cost far more than any other alternative. The new analysis found that plans similar to the one Biden, Buttigieg, and other candidates have proposed—centered on expanding a public option to compete with private insurance companies—would achieve nearly universal coverage at a cost of roughly $122 billion to $162 billion annually, depending on exactly how they are designed. Even what the analysts called a single-payer plan “lite”—requiring some co-pays and offering somewhat less generous benefits, without covering undocumented immigrants—would cost about $1.5 trillion annually, about half as much as the Sanders and Warren proposal.

Such comparisons are certain to compound the anxieties that many Democratic health-care experts feel about trying to defend in the general election a single-payer plan that would eliminate private health insurance and require such a large increase in federal spending.

“Many countries do not wrest the entire burden of every single person’s health care into the federal government,” says Neera Tanden, the president of the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress and a former health-policy adviser to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. “I think there are big questions about the United States moving from the most conservative health-care system to the most leftward government-run health-care system.

“There are positives and negatives to any of these options,” Tanden adds. “But one issue in a country that has more anxiety about the government’s role in people’s lives is whether it is feasible, or even sustainable over the long term, to have the federal government [grow so much] in size because the entire system of health care would be run through the government.”

Florida GOP leaders finally utter sea level rise, lament lost decade   25%

For the first time in a decade, a Florida Senate committee scheduled a meeting Monday to discuss the impact of climate change on the peninsula state. What did senators learn? … Click to Continue »

Nearing death and the obituary belt | Letters   7%

Readers respond to the finding that human brains seem to categorise death as something that only befalls other people

In “Death? Why our brains tell us it only happens to other people” (19 October) Ian Sample describes fascinating research in Israel that investigates a biological reason built into our brains for our inability to think through our own deaths – a reason, moreover, that may have provided evolutionary advantages in the development of mankind.

Being of an age when I frequently think towards my own death, I have realised that there is also an ontological reason for my inability to follow this train of thought through – a reason, perhaps, even with theological implications for the belief in an immortal soul. For, unless such a soul survives my bodily existence (a belief I myself cannot hold), what entity is there left that can contemplate me at the moment of my extinction and thereafter? Or, indeed, to see the world around me? And that is, perhaps, even more terrifying. Will the world cease to exist at the moment of my death? George Berkeley – and Ronald Knox – would reply that an all-seeing God continues to exist and see; a way of combatting terror that I cannot share.

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Will Congress finally fulfill a 200-year-old promise to the Cherokee people?   -10%

Kimberly Teehee could become the Cherokee Nation’s first delegate to Congress – if Washington lets her

The 1835 Treaty of New Echota precipitated tens of thousands of Cherokee joining the infamous Trail of Tears – giving up their ancestral homes in the south-east, to trek to what is now Oklahoma.

In a minor concession to the Cherokee people, buried within the treaty was a promise that the nation could appoint a delegate to the House of Representatives, to have at least some sort of say in the government that had forced them for their land.

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Not White? You Might Struggle to Find an Organ Donor  

One in five people who died in 2018 waiting for an organ transplant was from a BAME background. Campaigners are hoping a new law might change that.

Google pulls Hong Kong protest game from app store   -5%

Tech firm claims Revolution Of Our Times violates 'long-standing policy prohibiting developers from capitalising on sensitive events'

Indian state bans cellphones at all colleges and universities   20%

Phones have been banned in all colleges and universities in Uttar Pradesh, a state in northern India, because the regional government reportedly believes that students spend too much time on their mobile devices.
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Cows Need Friends to Be Happy  

A cow is a beast bred for uniformity. Whether black-and-white Holsteins or ginger-colored Jerseys, the marvel of the herd is that such unvaried selfsameness has been coaxed, over time, out of bovine diversity. Identical cows lift up identical, dozy eyes. Jaws slide, muffled by fodder, chewing cud. A handful of breeds dominates the beef, dairy, and leather industries the world over. Cattle are “a human product like rayon,” Annie Dillard once wrote, encountering steers in Virginia. “They’re like a field of shoes.” People manufacture them. In the past 40 years alone, agricultural scientists seeking to increase milk production have altered at least 23 percent of the Holstein’s genome.

Those of us who readily mistake one cow for another may be surprised to learn that these animals not only recognize one another as individuals, but have friends they prefer. Indeed, it turns out that cows are especially interested in—and affectionate toward—particular other cows. A kind of sisterhood is thought to feature in their social lives.

What is friendship, in the case of a cow? For decades, behavioral studies of livestock have tended to focus on aggression, because fighting between animals can result in physical injuries and economic loss. Bovine companionship, a less conspicuous dynamic, long went underrecorded—at least as a subject of scientific inquiry. As herd sizes have increased and greater numbers of cows have been subjected to intensive stall-feeding, the incentives to understand cow stress, and cow resilience, have grown.

Cow friendship, researchers now believe, is expressed foremost in grazing and licking. A study of a commercial herd in the United Kingdom found that, put to pasture, more than half of the animals spent time eating and resting alongside a specific individual. Separated from the larger group, cows that were paired with their favored friend maintained lower heart rates and did not stamp, toss their heads, pace, or sway as much as cows paired with individuals they’d shown no partiality toward. In short, they seemed less agitated. A different study suggested that cows were able to recognize others they knew in real life from photographs, which they then ran toward. As for licking, cows seem to lick the heads, necks, and backs of other cows for a reason similar to why chimpanzees groom each other—to bond. One set of findings, published a few years ago, showed that among Austrian Simmental cows, licking reduced bovine heart rates—though only for the receivers of licks. In Kenya, Zebu cattle lick discerningly, but without reciprocity. A long-term observational study of a herd of 31 Zebu on the Athi Plains found that most of these animals preferred to seek a familiar friend to lick, and that in a given friendship, one cow was almost always the licker, and the other cow, the lickee. However, this hierarchy did not align with the social structure of the herd: The dominant Zebu were not the most popular Zebu to lick. Nor could the researchers identify what made a Zebu likely to be licked. Still, the cows appeared to maintain consistent allies for several years.

You might assume the affectionate attachments of cows to be a side effect of domestication, but there is evidence that wild bovines, too, form platonic partnerships. Older male buffalo, for example, sometimes establish dyads with other bulls. Among these and other hoofed, herbivorous animals that congregate in very large numbers, perhaps friendship proved adaptive across generations because individuals that remained clustered— and vigilant to predators—were more likely than others to survive.

[Read: The secret logic of cows]

Whether or not bovine friendship is an evolutionary legacy, the American commercial milking cow’s life affords little opportunity for other social contact. The majority of cows in the United States are artificially inseminated so as to bear the calves that bring on milk production (a single Holstein bull, born in 1974, was the progenitor of more than 80,000 young). And in most instances, calves are removed from their mothers soon after birth. Interactions with mates and offspring being impossible, might female friendship fill the void?

Sadly, few cows get the chance to find out. They tend to forget their friends quickly: After just two weeks apart, individuals who once preferred each other no longer display friendship’s behaviors or positive effects. This is significant, because large-scale dairy farms may regroup a herd four to 12 times a year. Considering that cows without friends show evidence of distress, thwarting cow friendship would seem to contribute to cow suffering.

Surprisingly, the camaraderie between cows and people also appears to affect bovine productivity, and perhaps contentment. A 2009 survey of more than 500 British dairy farmers revealed that cows that had been given names produced 258 more liters of milk than did cows that went unnamed and thus unrecognized as individuals.

This article appears in the November 2019 print edition with the headline “Bovine Friends Forever.”

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The Genre-Defying Singer Inspired by Japanese Funk   11%

When Berhana, the 27-year-old singer born Amain Berhane, finished his film program at the New School, he did what a lot of young artistic people in New York City do: He started working at a restaurant. During his time as a chef and assistant manager at Robataya, a now-defunct Japanese spot in the East Village, the recent graduate undertook a new, informal curriculum in Japanese culture; he was even tasked with learning to speak the language.

For the Atlanta native born to Ethiopian parents, the transition was difficult at first, but Berhana’s tight-knit group of co-workers helped shape the trajectory of his career. “I’m seeing them, like, all week,” Berhana said of his former colleagues when we spoke recently at Hi-Collar, another East Village outpost, owned by Robataya’s former managers. “And they’re putting me on to different books to read, different movies to watch, different music to listen to. That’s kinda how I was exposed to [Japanese] culture.”

Berhana’s kaleidoscopic debut album, HAN, deftly incorporates these different artistic influences. Released Friday, the record builds on the warm and woozy soundscape that defined his breakout single, “Janet,” and his 2016 self-titled EP. Berhana recorded both while working at Robataya, and the restaurant shows up in HAN, too. “The recording you hear at the end of ‘Golden,’” he explained, referencing the album’s first, stellar full-length track, “that’s a small sliver of the chant that they made us do every day when we walked in. I recorded it when I was working.” The audio blends organically into the track not just because of the production surrounding it, but also because of Berhana’s deep attachment to the chapter of his life that it represents.

At times, listening to HAN feels like witnessing a metacultural exchange. The album is a project of meticulous curation and a map of the artist’s geographic ties; it’s also a direct challenge to what some audiences might expect of a young black musician raised in Atlanta. Referencing the sometimes troubling impulse of American artists to cherry-pick or fetishize cultural products from Asian countries, he continued: “I did want to bring a level of respect to what I was doing and not have it just be like, Oh yeah, I’m into anime.” As he worked on HAN, a simple guiding question emerged: “How can I be as honest as possible?”

The result is a record that manages to be eclectic yet cohesive. One way Berhana achieves this effect is by strategically pulling in musical references that are themselves references to previous works. For example, among the key inspirations for the album’s soul- and funk-inflected songs—including tracks such as “Golden”—was Neuromantic, a 1981 album by the Japanese artist Yukihiro Takahashi. Going a step further, the Japanese soul and funk musicians of Takahashi’s era were, for their part, drawing from the ideas and cultural cachet of black artists in America.

Much of HAN was recorded in Japan, between Kumejima, a small island in Okinawa, and Tokyo. In a nod to his international journey, Berhana threads together the album with short interludes that take the form of in-flight announcements. The singer wrote these segues to serve as narrative guides for the listener and to collate the album’s disparate genres. How can I make all of these different sounds feel in the same world? he asked himself. HAN bounces through funk, soul, jazz, rock, and pop elements with little regard for the distinctions between those categories. Berhana resists placing himself within one genre, all too aware that singers like him are often relegated to the rap and R&B genres—or, worse yet, that nebulous arena of “urban contemporary.”

“Everybody’s called my music either rap or R&B, and I get it,” he said. “I’m a black guy making music, so that’s just what you wanna say, and I’ve seen it happen to artists forever.” He mentioned Prince, who was often described as an R&B artist rather than, say, a rock star. But young black musicians today are stretching the boundaries of their assigned labels, and Berhana is hoping to do the same. Noting that he’s always been drawn to experimental artists such as David Bowie, Björk, André 3000, and Squarepusher, he explained: “I wanna make music that people like; I just don’t wanna make music people expect.”

This desire to grow and to surprise listeners intensified in the three years since the release of Berhana. “Janet” attracted attention—and an enthusiastic fan base—as a single, but the thrill of making the EP prompted Berhana to move to Los Angeles to pursue a music career in earnest. He worked at another restaurant there, but after repeatedly seeing artists he wanted to collaborate with walk in to eat, he resolved to quit. The month he left, he was able to just eke out a living; not long afterward, his song “Grey Luh” was featured on an episode of Donald Glover’s FX show, Atlanta, and won him more recognition. Berhana’s community back home (even the more skeptical family members) rallied around him. Things were falling into place.

Still, the artist hesitated to release new music too quickly. “Janet” was one of the first songs he ever made, and the EP was something of an experiment. He knew HAN needed to be a more considered effort, so he made plenty of music without putting any of it out. Then, a year and a half ago, he began playing around with his new influences to try to “make something that felt like an elevated version of the things I’d done [before].”

Some of Berhana’s early references sprouted closer to home: The EP’s first track, “Brooklyn Drugs,” interpolated a song by the famed Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed. Berhana named Ahmed, along with Aster Aweke, Teddy Afro, Hailu Mergia, and the Ethio-jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke, as some of the pivotal artists his parents introduced him to. (His mother also joked that he was related to an East African crooner from his own generation. “When the Weeknd came out, my mom couldn’t wait to tell me how we were connected,” he said with a laugh.) From his uncle, he learned about Bob Marley and reggae. From his older sister came soul, in the form of Stevie Wonder and Sam Cooke. And his older brother shared hip-hop artists such as Outkast, Mos Def, the Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, and N.E.R.D.

“G2g,” a song late into HAN’s run, showcases the singer’s allegiance to the rock records his brother would also play. It’s a bold, electric-guitar-riff-heavy track about moving on after a romantic failure. Berhana stretches his voice into near-hysterics as he sings: “She got it bad, I gotta go / I’m tryna make it out the South / I think she know.” “G2g” flows seamlessly into the stripped-down “California,” a more traditional R&B track on which Berhana showcases the vocal prowess that’s already earned him comparisons to Frank Ocean. As the song progresses, it picks up tempo but doesn’t lose the vulnerability of its intro vocals. Named for the state where he now lives, “California” pairs lyrics about romantic disillusionment with escalating percussion and bursts of strings.

HAN is a compact record; it comprises 14 tracks, including interludes, and comes in at a 33-minute run time. In its meticulousness and its wandering, it echoes A Tribe Called Quest’s landmark 1993 album, Midnight Marauders. The lone feature on HAN is the Korean singer Crush, who appears on the contemplative “I Been.” The song pulses with nostalgia, a collection of promises to a lost lover: “Is there something I can do / Just wanna make this easier for you / And you can make this easier for me / Give me a little time and you can see that / That I been / Working on me / For you / Baby.” The collaboration was serendipitous; the two met when Crush invited Berhana to perform at his release party in Korea. “I never planned on having a feature,” Berhana said. “When I put him on originally, I was like, Oh, maybe we can do a couple ad libs here and here. And my man gave me a full verse.”

In the lead-up to HAN’s release, Berhana said he was most excited to perform the new songs for live audiences. He had spent the past few months attending shows in Los Angeles, taking notes from the concerts of wildly different artists such as Marcos Valle and Arthur Verocai, Haruomi Hosono, Phoenix, and Thom Yorke. The day we spoke at Hi-Collar, though, Berhana was roped into an impromptu recital well within his comfort zone. An employee who knew him during his Robataya years asked him to record a Japanese chant with her like the one that appears on HAN. Enthusiastically referring to him by his first name, she was a reminder for Berhana: that returning to New York, and to the crew who inspired much of his album, would always be a kind of homecoming.

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The long-running series in which readers answer other readers’ questions on subjects ranging from trivial flights of fancy to profound scientific and philosophical concepts

Football scores record the timing of each goal. This gives an instant flavour of the match: 0-3 to 4-3 = triumph; 0-4 to 3-4 = despair. Why is this information not included in rugby scores?

Peter Lowe, Newcastle upon Tyne

Continue reading...

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The Books Briefing: The Revolution Will Be Written About   20%

As mass pro-democracy demonstrations continue to rock Hong Kong and student-led strikes around the world call for action against climate change, the variety of works in this Books Briefing can lend insight into the many forms protest has taken over the decades.

In his graphic memoir, March, Representative John Lewis documents the struggle and heartbreak, as well as the victories, of the civil-rights movement. The historian Emily E. LB. Twarog writes of the female-driven consumer activism that, throughout the 20th century, shaped the American food industry. Antonia Malchik’s A Walking Life describes how the community networks that sustain movements are formed in public spaces where assemblies that demand leaders’ attention can also take place.

As important as organizing and protesting for a cause can be, individuals often find other creative ways of making their views heard. Dorian Lynskey’s history of protest music, 33 Revolutions per Minute, discusses the sometimes underestimated political power of pop songs. And a collection of photographs by Yoav Litvin captures the quietly arresting statements that some New York City street artists make through their work.

Every Friday, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.

Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email.

What We’re Reading

(Lee Jin-man / AP)

Why in-person protests are stronger than online activism
“Effective protest requires not just the right of the people to gather, but accessible public spaces in which gathering is possible and citizens who understand what those rights are.”

📚 An excerpt from A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom One Step at a Time, by Antonia Malchik
📚 Twitter and Tear Gas, by Zeynep Tufekci

Street art’s momentary protest, made permanent
“It is an incredible, non-violent way to raise issues in the public sphere and promote positive change.”

📚 Outdoor Gallery: New York City, by Yoav Litvin

How “citizen housewives” made food cheaper and safer
“Without grassroots organizing by women throughout the 20th century against rotting ingredients, high food prices, and indecipherable freshness codes, buying food in America would look very different than it does.”

📚 Politics of the Pantry: Housewives, Food, and Consumer Protest in Twentieth-Century America, by Emily E. LB. Twarog

John Lewis and the cycle of racism in the United States
“This is the true story of how civil rights were carved out in America: in the blood of activists.”

📚 March, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

The golden era of protest music
“Protest songs make people feel not alone … This is where I think preaching to the converted is underrated. It’s fine to cement beliefs to inspire people to act on them.”

📚 33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, by Dorian Lynskey

The Reference Desk

(New York Public Library)

This week’s question is from S.J., who’s in search of literary fiction that’s perfect for fall and winter reading.

While Autumn, by Ali Smith, might sound like an obvious answer, it’s timely in more ways than just the title—the novel is an intricately structured, richly imagined response to Brexit, a process that’s currently reaching a crisis point in the United Kingdom. If you’re more in the market for an escape from dreary news and weather, though, you might try exploring the fantastical worlds of Terry Pratchett or J. R. R. Tolkien (including the latter’s lesser-known short story that sums up his writing philosophy). Between those two poles, the eerie novels of Shirley Jackson use supernatural themes to uncover dark realities about society and psychology.

The colder months can be a good time to settle down with a classic you’ve always meant to get to: Meet the vivid, complex characters of Anna Karenina, or reap the still-relevant insights of The Grapes of Wrath. I’m personally fond of Persuasion, which, taking place primarily in the fall and winter, has a bittersweet autumnal flavor of nostalgia and regret—but eventually promises a fresh start for its central characters.

Write to the Books Briefing team at or reply directly to this email with any of your reading-related dilemmas. We might feature one of your questions in a future edition of the Books Briefing and offer a few books or related Atlantic pieces that might help you out.

About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. She spent her last Sunday binge-reading The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.

Comments, questions, typos? Reply to this email to reach the Books Briefing team.

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